Smart Sales Managers Know How and When to Switch Hats

Sales managers are more than a glorified salesperson. They must wear multiple hats if they are to succeed at building a high performance sales team.

Most sales managers are called just that: sales managers. However, anyone in a sales leadership role knows “manager” is only one of at least three hats they must wear: sales leader, sales manager, and sales coach. Wearing the wrong hat—that is, applying the wrong strategy—for a given situation will generally lead to less than optimal performance from your team.

Knowing when to wear which hat, however, isn’t always as simple as it might seem. The responsibilities of the leader, manager, and coach are not always clearly divided. Here are the attributes for each role to help you decide what sort of direction to take with your sales team.

Hat #1: Sales Leader
The simplest definition of a leader is “someone who leads”. Use your leadership skills when you need to set the vision of the sales department, motivate, and create conditions for sales reps to be engaged productively in their roles.

One of my favorite definitions is, “the most effective measure of a leader is the performance of their team in their absence.” A sales leader knows what their teams are doing, because they have invested time in ensuring that each salesperson understands how their role adds value to the organization as a whole.

Hat #2: Sales Manager
Sales managers are the structural supervisors of the sales team. They direct everything having to do with the systemic: the rules, processes, metrics, policies, and so forth. Sales managers act as referees and police officers, communicating the rules and any changes as they happen. They clarify gray areas and answer questions. They define and fix territory problems and they hold accountable salespeople who fail to achieve the predetermined sales objectives.

Hat #3 Sales Coach
Ideally, this is the hat worn the most. Sales coaches can have the most significant impact on individual performance, just as athletic coaches can drive players to new levels of ability through conditioning and practice. They do this through careful analysis of performance and then partnering with the sales rep in training and emulating best industry sales practices. By far the most personal of the three roles, the sales coach can help salespeople achieve great results than they thought possible.

Usually, these three roles are combined in one person, although many sales manager positions emphasize one or two of these roles over the others. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, so long as managers remember that, no matter what their title, they always have three hats to choose from: sales leader, sales manager, and sales coach.